Economic Development – More than just high-tech

For the past 6 years, the City’s approach to economic development seemed focussed on the mine.  There was talk of economic diversification, usually about high-tech but little in the way of real and substantive work on diversification was undertaken.  

Similar to the Performing Arts Centre, there was no Plan B.  No strategy, no goals, no timelines for developing our economy and no apparent understanding of the impact this would have on our economy in the decades ahead.

High-tech does and should continue to play a significant role in developing our new economy but even there, it needs the City’s help.  We need a sophisticated and well organized angel investor network that will keep successful innovators here.  We need to train or attract more skilled employees that will allow tech firms to grow their business here.  studentsWe need a university that is adapting and growing their science and technology curriculum to match industry needs. And we need to make sure that Venture Kamloops has programs in place to make these things happen.

We also need to start looking at light manufacturing with the capabilities to build some of the technologies our entrepreneurs are creating. This means more skilled electricians, engineers, designers, fabricators etc. have to be found or trained.

But as the name implies, diversification means looking at opportunities beyond just high-tech.  Agriculture, adventure tourism, financial services, manufacturing, distribution and arts are just a few that would work well with our location.  As a distribution hub, we have a proven network and capacity to export across the province or around the world.

My vision for Kamloops sees more than 100 new small to medium sized business starting or relocating here in the next 10 to 15 years. Each of those businesses hiring anywhere from 5 to 15 people.  Not all of them in high-tech but instead a resilient blend of well established sustainable companies with a mix that allows us to absorb the ups and downs of normal economic cycles.

And there is a role for companies already here as well.  I’d like to see established firms boardroommentoring and coaching staff as well as entrepreneurs.  Helping staff and new startups improves the chances for success and growth, while building the framework that will keep people here and gainfully employed.

Economic development is not a game of quick results but we have to start now and make up for the time already wasted. Had we seriously started this process 10 years ago, many of the economic development concerns we face today would have already been resolved.

Kamloops – A Vibrant 21st Century Economy

People talk about diversifying our economy but when pushed for answers, most can only  grin weakly and manage the tired old answer…High-Tech.  But there is so much more than just high-tech and so much we can do to turn the decades ahead into best times of our lives.

There’s integration with light manufacturing.  Skill upgrades to match the changing economy.  Agriculture that includes manufacturing, farm-gate sales and tourism.  Aggressive marketing strategies targeted towards attracting new and existing businesses and people with needed skills. Using science to create new innovative products.  The list goes on and here are just a few ideas to get you thinking about what Kamloops can do to become active, alive, involved and booming in the 21st century.

We can begin a scheduled series of Discover Kamloops weekends where entrepreneurs, existing small businesses and skilled professionals from the Coast are invited up under a hosted program to experience Kamloops first hand. Key to our presentation for moving their business here would be affordability (you can buy a house here for the price of a studio suite condo in Vancouver), we’re family friendly, our amazing outdoors lifestyle, serious IT infrastructure, transportation hub, proximity to major markets and room to grow and expand.

We can also start packaging the benefits of integrating innovative ideas and technology with light manufacturing. If you’ve invented or improved on a product or technology then why not build it here as well?  Producing your product here takes advantage of our well-established and proven transportation and distribution infrastructure. And we can even offer independent 3rd party testing and product validation right here at TRU.

Or how about we get back to our roots…so to speak…and look at new opportunities in agriculture. Small-scale hop farms built on the model of wine country but with farm-gate microbreweries offering tours, craft beer tasting rooms, restaurants and on site sales. This is product manufacturing 21st century style and a perfect add on for tourism as well.

Go the science route and establish new specialties or niche markets. Become the specialists in developing yeasts for brewing. Develop new techniques for reforestation…get geeky and start a new business

Pick a technology specialty like green energy or communications and establish a centre of excellence that will attract other innovators, create market awareness and build new companies.

Start a new computer science degree program that specializes in gaming and simulation and bring in industry leaders with branch offices here in Kamloops that will hire our new graduates.

Teach new skills that will allow you to telecommute instead of being forced to leave Kamloops.

Add new trade diploma programs in electronics and manufacturing so that we have the people to build what we invent.

This is my kind of Kamloops. A Kamloops that is not bound to the old ways simply because, “that’s the way we’ve always done it”. It’s about looking at the new global realities, recognizing new opportunities and providing the kind of leadership that has been missing and is so badly needed.

As Mayor I would want to insure that in the future we are never again forced to choose between 200+ jobs and the health of 90,000 residents. A robust, diversified economy, with well paying jobs is step one in creating that healthy, safe community of the near future.

Help me return leadership and positive change to City Hall. Vote September 30th for Bill McQuarrie as Mayor of Kamloops.

McQUARRIE – High-tech, resource industries, tourism can coexist

This is the post excerpt.

 

KAMLOOPS — I’m a curious kind of guy and have noticed that whenever we talk about diversifying our local economy, the conversation quickly goes off track as people respond with something along the lines of, “True, but we can’t live on tourism jobs alone.”

My curiosity makes me wonder why.  Why do we always fall back on that as being the only possible outcome of a diversified economy?

Tourism is and will continue to be an important part of the economic mix for this City. The keyword is mix but that is ignored when someone inevitably whines about how we can’t survive on tourists and/or minimum wage jobs alone.

Everyone nods their head in agreement, murmurs a few platitudes and reminisces about the good old days. Often, if the energy level is high, a committee is struck, a community task force that will lobby government for more access to…whatever the resource du jour is at that moment in time.

It’s a given that this conversation will go nowhere.  A delegation will eventually fly over to Victoria, where they will listen to supportive MLA’s and Ministers agree with everything being said.  The committee will fly home that evening with promises that Deputy Ministers and industry specialists will get to work on it.  They never do until a couple of years later when a brand new committee arrives in town and the cycle renews itself.

It could be said that Ajax is in many respects the unplanned child of this lacklustre approach to economic diversification.  Over a decade of following this unimaginative ‘slow and steady’ promise has left us with little more than a deeply divided City with little or no alternatives.

As sure as we know a 100% tourism based economy is a fallacy, so too is a 100% resource based economy. Yet this uninspired and unproductive approach to economic diversification has made us easy pickings, a town to be exploited by people who will never live here.

We pay lip service to diversification but do little that is substantive.  In fact, like many of you, I’ve been wondering how different the Ajax story would be if we had been doing more than just studies on average wages and reports on development land availability.

Over these same years, Kamloops could have been moving into the high paying knowledge based economy but chose instead to do nothing.  In its place our political leaders entered into a multi-year discussion with a Polish based mining company that may result in an open pit mine being created beside our City.

In the process they have divided the community like no other administration has been capable of doing.

Instead of fracturing our community, why weren’t we developing new opportunities and relationships with non-destructive industries in the high-tech and alternative energy industries?

Diversifying our economy doesn’t mean ignoring the resource sector.  Instead it could mean developing symbiotic relationships with existing resource industries.  It could even be something as straightforward as transferring waste heat from data centres to pulp mills needing that energy to manufacture paper.  Make it a loop by returning cold water to the data centre and you are suddenly reducing a carbon footprint through recycled energy.

Take a moment to consider the possibilities of having and growing industries and high paying jobs that do not need or exploit the one time use of a natural resource.  They are more resistant to and independent of world commodity prices.  They create as opposed to destroy.  They add value and export a finished product as opposed to shipping out raw materials. They are often complementary to established industry.  They create a legacy that grows a community beyond just two decades.

Drive through dozens of once thriving resource extraction towns in BC, Washington and Oregon and you will see how the future will treat us if we do nothing but follow our current path.

 

McQUARRIE – Is economic decline the product of slow and steady leadership?

KAMLOOPS — I sometimes wonder if I’d have anything to write about on our local economy were it not for Ajax.

What if 15 or so years ago, the City had set course on a different path? A path that recognized we needed to begin preparing for a new future or be left behind to become a mostly abandoned resource town that people pass through on their way to somewhere else.

Last week I wrote about fixed attitudes and preconceived notions about economic development along with an unwillingness to face changing realities. At coffee shops or online, I hear people proudly and rightfully so, talk of our past successes and how natural resources were the economic backbone of our City.

I also hear token platitudes about economic diversification but never backed with concrete ideas or the kind of leadership to make it happen. Election cycles, political polarization, self-interest and social media trolls are not fertile and supportive ground for visionary politicians. For example:

You are likely unaware that about 6 years ago, DigiPen Institute of Technology https://www.digipen.edu was looking for a Canadian university partner.

Base in Redmond WA, DigiPen is one of the world’s leading educators with degree studies in animation, simulation, game design, audio engineering and computer science. Their students are some of the most sought after graduates in the high paying gaming, simulation and new media industries.

We were offered an opportunity for a co-op degree program at TRU that would also include major industry players setting up satellite operations in Kamloops. Education and high paying jobs waiting for graduates here in Kamloops.

It would take several years to set up, require an investment in time and resources and need the support of both the university and the City. DigiPen spent over a year answering questions, hosting campus tours and in the end, was willing to sign a memorandum of understanding.

It died from lack of interest and initiative from Kamloops. Worse yet, no future administration picked up the ball and attempted to get the parties back to the table. As a result, Kamloops lost its’ chance to become the Canadian leader in the high tech, high profile and high paying digital media industry.

DigiPen went on to open new campuses in Spain and Singapore while we were left to a coming future of arguing over a Kamloops open pit mine.

What were our community and civic leaders thinking? Where were the business groups like the Chamber and why weren’t they lining up to demand the City and university make this venture happen?

Instead we were and are lazily complacent and seem a bit too eager to sell off our future for an immediate and short-term gain.

If you want to work with industry, why not with a partner such as Fortis on a project to capture the existing energy in our landfill and do something innovative like, heat TRU? Methane is similar enough to natural gas as to be a perfect substitution and if we did a demonstration project like this, we could sell the knowhow and technology around the world.

We have two data centres generating a tremendous amount of heat as a bi product of their cooling system. That heat is currently wasted, yet we have a paper mill in search of and investing vast sums for heat. Why aren’t we looking at a unique industrial/tech sector partnership that circulates and exchanges that wasted energy resource? Cool water up to the data centres and hot water back to the mill in a synergy styled partnership that bridges the divide between heavy industry and high technology.

Then there’s the failed Performing Arts Centre that continues to languish unless someone has the courage and political will to try something daring like a land swap. Trade the School Board’s Henry Grube Centre for the City’s Kamloops Daily News site.

Anchor the eastern end of Tranquille Rd. by building a riverside PAC while bringing the school board and IT centre downtown to Seymour St.

Help recover costs by partnering with a hotel for the PAC. Then keep the seating down to a community supportable/affordable 500 and toss in an outdoor amphitheatre for events such as Project X.

Back on Seymour St., build a couple of floors of condos above the new School Board office. Add several classrooms for extended education and night school and suddenly you have an expanded workforce, students and residents supporting downtown merchants throughout the day and evening.

These could be centrepieces that finally unite north and south shores with a downtown vibrancy that is shared on both sides of the river.

And speaking of downtown, why can’t we dedicate all or a sizable portion of Stuart Wood to a new downtown company and job creating incubation centre for alternative energy solutions?

Partner and share costs with energy suppliers like BC Hydro and Fortis along with large energy dependent industries in need of renewable energy solutions. Bring in tech start-up assistance from specialist groups like Western Economic Diversification, BC Innovation Council and…Well you get the idea.

I saw this happening in of all places, Grand Forks, North Dakota where the university became a recognized national leader in green energy solutions and now attracts leading scientists and businesses from around the world.

For those who don’t know, Grand Forks is a small city, beside a river with a university. Sound familiar?

These are not necessarily the ideas to move forward on but had we started this process at the turn of the millennium, I doubt we’d be faced with the economic choices confronting us today.

Seventeen years of doing nothing, having no actionable plan with measurable milestones, lacking the required will and courage and having no vision has brought us to this point.

Is decline the product of slow and steady? If not, it has at its best, now forced us into decisions that ignore and have the potential to put into peril, the long term future and well-being of the City.

McQUARRIE – We need to think outside the box on growing our local economy

KAMLOOPS — Back around 2008, I was asked for my thoughts on the local economy and what new ideas I might have about diversifying our economy.  Everyone else at the table was talking high tech and manufacturing but not providing specific examples or even a back of the envelope action plan, so I decided to take a completely different approach.

I mentioned the wine industry, suggesting our south facing slopes were likely ideal for vineyards.  It was a renewable, non-polluting use of an existing resource, with an established and proven market.  It could be scaled to allow for gradual growth and many varietals had already been proven to be well suited to our area.

When I looked out to the audience I could see that not mentioning Microsoft, assembly lines, forestry or mining had not gone over well.  As if to prove the point, the following morning, the media’s response was polite but dismissive of the idea as being the product of an overactive imagination. Kamloops was they implied, a blue-collar town and a wine industry based here would never fly, let alone be accepted.

Of course jump forward several years and as you now enter the City, you are greeted with signs welcoming you to and encouraging you to stop and travel the wine trails of Kamloops.

I remember this particular event as it seemed to and perhaps still does, encapsulate many a view of economic diversification in Kamloops. If it’s different, involves out of comfort zone thinking, is new and doesn’t involve at least one resource sector, than it’s treated with suspicion at best.

For instance, and sticking with agriculture for a moment, what if I suggested we be the first City in Canada to start a farm-gate based micro craft beer industry?  Crazy no?

Think of the wine industry in Kelowna but instead of grape vines, we grow hop vines and brew on-site, a selection of unique beers.  We would end up having craft brew tours going from farm to farm with tasting bars at each stop, on-site restaurants, product sales and a new self-sustaining industry.

Same concept, different product, a niche market and we’ve already proven that hops do well in the Kamloops region. It employs skilled and unskilled labour. TRU could offer brew master diploma programs, science degree majors in the chemistry of brewing and begin developing new, unique and patentable yeasts. It becomes a crossover industry as it sets up a new tourism product that can be marketed internationally.  It establishes Kamloops as the leader in this market and first to market should be able to hold a dominant position for years to come.

We need to start thinking outside of our pre conceived ideas about Kamloops as the writing is on the wall for our economy.  By that I mean the reason so many people are forced to travel for work is that job availability in the resource sector is becoming increasingly slim.  Not so much because that sector is shrinking but because so much of the actual work is being automated.

Think about how many man-hours have been lost to the feller buncher.  One man, one machine has replaced entire crews. One man at a mill, sitting in a control booth above the floor can use a laser to size and determine best cuts for a log faster and with greater dollar for dollar efficiency than an entire crew that once worked on the floor below.

The technology we see in driverless cars is being adapted for ore moving dump trucks. Robots build your cars. We avoid supporting local merchants by buying products online that for the most part are shipped to us using automation. We avoid using our local bank when we do all our banking online. We use drive thrus for convenience. When is the last time a real person with a real voice answered your service or inquiry call?

Convenience, efficiency and speed are not just the domain of your employer. We have all contributed to job losses, most resulting from our use of technology.  Yet we blame others for using technology to eliminate our well-paid job in the resource sector.

That is wrong at any number of levels but if we are going to change it then we have to start thinking about work and what can be done to create meaningful employment that will bring spouses back.

Even if Ajax goes ahead and as the Chamber says, we end up supporting (not necessarily creating) 10,000 jobs across all of Canada (not just in Kamloops), it’s still only a few who will be lucky enough to get a job here at the mine.

If the mine goes through it will be like winning the lottery for a few while several thousand more will have to remain content with wishing and dreaming.  Win or lose, is that really a viable way to run our City?

So why are we spending so much time on something that may or may not happen? It’s a classic case of diversion that pushes a multinational’s corporate agenda by using promises of a return to the good old days.

Instead, we should really be doing something about the City’s future that involves more than a fingers crossed approach to economic development.

Next week – New media/game development, energy, partnerships, fine arts and the performing arts as economic development engines.